summer wine


First things first: I’m not a connoisseur. I’m not much of an oenophile. Most of the things I am are much easier to spell.

But I’ve been getting interested in wine, in my small way. I do like to have a pleasant glass with dinner. Two or three glasses, and I start to giggle. Four, and I start to show my tattoos. And I don’t have any tattoos, so you can see that four is over my limit. A scant two is more likely, and not always two days in a row.

Since I’m the only wine-drinker in the house, I hate to open a good bottle and have it sit on the shelf, squinting sourly at me for the rest of the week, so I’m looking at some alternatives.

boxed wines
Because the bladder (hee) in a proper boxed-wine box keeps the remaining volume of wine airtight, boxed wine will keep in the fridge for weeks without noticeable decline in quality. Even with the tetra-packs (think “oversized juicebox”), you can squeeze out most of the air before recapping.

No, the problem with boxed wines isn’t the decline in quality, but the quality, full stop. I’m trying out a few, and looking for recommendations of others.

This Chow article recommends the Bota box. Coincidentally, I’m currently drinking my way through a thoroughly unremarkable Bota box of Pinot Grigio. It’s drinkable, but flat. Based on the article rather than the Pinot Grigio, I’m willing to give the Bota Shiraz a try.

The Frugal Oenophile gives an overview of some “alternatively packaged” wines, a couple of which sound dreadful, but there are a few possibilities there for an everyday wine. He also describes one tetra-packed Shiraz that sounds quite lovely.

This apparently abandoned blog on boxed wines nonetheless has some good reading, and here’s one of many Chowhound threads on boxed wine, with the requisite nay-saying wine snobs.

cheap wine
I stock our “cellar” (actually a hallway) with bottles of decent-not-great wine for US$12 and under. It’s a tough price point, but higher than that and I stop insouciantly opening any old bottle for one or two glasses.
Oddly enough, focuses not on boxed wines, but on affordable wines in general, as does this award-winning blog devoted to Good Wine Under $20. Nirvino, a review aggregator with user-added content, looks like a useful resource for overviews of specific bottles and brands.

Here, a reader asks Metafilter “What was that ‘vino rosso’? I’m looking for a red wine like the ‘house reds’ we drank in northern Italy.
And just in time, Eric Asimov makes an impassioned call for chilled reds for summer. (NYTimes, log-in required.)

Yes, we want red wine. And how are we going to drink this red wine?

That’s right, chilled! Cold, cool, brisk, whatever you want to call it, we are going to enjoy this red wine at a temperature that refreshes, restores and revitalizes even the most exhausted soul.

Conveniently, the wines that best take to chilling are — yes — moderately inexpensive little reds.

A poor glass can handicap even a fine wine, and conversely a good glass can transform a cheap less expensive wine, bringing out its fragrance and hidden notes. I believed this for a long time, but confirmed it after receiving these handsome Spiegelau glasses as a gift. (Thanks, Mom! I love love love them, and I credit them with spurring some of my new interest in wine.)

A side-by-side tasting of the same cheap bottled Chardonnay in different glasses tells the story: in the plain old glass, it’s flat and vegetal with a faint boozy aftertaste. In the Spiegelau glass, it blooms with fruit, grassy undertones, and hint of richness. Though the glasses are designed for Chardonnay, they amply improve Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc.

I’m so delighted by these new glasses that I’m going to splurge on a half-dozen for red wine. The only question: should they be for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, or a general-purpose glass?

Probably the best resource for a novice wine drinker: talking to other wine drinkers! Here are some of Elli’s remarks (also visible in the comments).

Elli says Having bought and abandoned many a wine glass in Switzerland, I like a general large-bowled glass that gives you a good surface area and is aesthetically pleasing to hold. (Similar to this but taller…)
Also consider getting a decanter if you have guests…

Oh, and Faith introduced me to the sparkling Shiraz which is great in summer!

Elsa responds Ooooh, those glasses are niiiiiiice. I’m also looking at these Cab/Merlot/Bordeaux glasses and this Cab/Merlot set, but I like the big swell at the bottom of the glasses you linked.

Elli, you cleverly remarked upon several points I intended to mention, but, uh, forgot.

I do have a handsome vintage decanter, scored at a yard sale years ago. I pulled it out of the cupboard just in case, thinking it would be an easy way to class up boxed wine, but it doesn’t get much use. For myself, I decant my cheap red wine into the glass and let it sit for a while, and for guests I’m usually serving a proper bottle of good (but not marvelous) wine that doesn’t improve with decanting. If we have more than one wine drinker, we’ll empty a bottle or more, so I don’t cringe at opening them for guests.

And, yes, I’ve been keeping an eye out for sparkling Shiraz since you mentioned it last summer (your summer or mine, not sure), but I can only find one sold locally. I keep forgetting to look up the label for reviews. Tell me: do you drink it from champagne glasses to retain the fizz, or from red wine glasses to get the bouquet?

the dump bucket
Sorry to say, some of these alternatively packaged or lower-priced wines aren’t worth drinking, even as a table wine, even from a well-designed glass. Make the most of the clunkers!
– using up too-sweet Gewurztraminer, which would work for most white wine.
– using up slightly bland red wine. Now I’m looking forward to a languid August evening when I can mix Coca-Cola and cheap red to make Calimocho/Kalimotxo, the tipple of Spanish teenagers. (And, yes, the Elsa in the thread, with the cheap wine and the nice glasses and the onion jam, is me!)